BEST TV OF 2011
by Benn Ray
For the past few years I've been more interested in TV than I have film - largely because the quality of television shows has been increasing, and film seemed largely stagnant. This year, as the role film plays in culture seems to be diminishing, so too does the volume of quality TV shows seem to be shrinking. In fact, some of my favorite shows had their season finales/were canceled this year (Friday Night Lights, Community, Bored To Death). And there doesn't seem to be a lot of quality new shows coming along to replace them - except, well, TV shows from the UK and Korea. Whether or not that pans out remains to be seen.
1. MISFITS (BBC)
This show is everything Heroes should have been and could never be. A group of teens who have ASBO (the British version of community service) get stuck in an unexplained storm and end up with special powers - as well as other folks in the town who were caught in the storm too. It's sort of like a superhero show written by someone who doesn't seem to care much for the generic trappings of superheroes. Where Heroes was huge, epic, planet-saving and over-wrought, Misfits is smaller, more personal and more relevant. Plus, it mantains a healthy hostility to authority throughout. Not to mention this show has one of the best soundtracks on TV.
2. JUSTIFIED (FX)
This Elmore Leonard-created cop show runs like an Appalachian Wire. Olyphant's Raylan Givens is a modern Clint Eastwood construct, only slightly more emotive, sympathetic and flawed. This show should really be on every week of the year without a break.
3. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (NBC)
2011 marked the final season of this Texas-based high school football drama that was about much more than high school football. It was a series of small town relationships which spoke to class, race, gender and ambition in small, touching, relevant and compelling ways.
4. LOUIE (FX)
I don't find Louis CK's standup, which provides the spine of this show, to be all that original, insightful, or fresh. However, it is a springboard from which he brilliantly launches a weekly half hour art film that is funny, beautiful, original, insightful, and fresh.
5. THE COLBERT REPORT (COMEDY NETWORK)
Stephen Colbert continues to push the line between political satire and politics. As I write this, he may or may not be running for President of The United States of South Carolina. His SuperPAC is running ads in Carolina in advance of the Republican primaries that not only criticize Mitt Romney, but the popular Republican misconception that corporations are people. He is the smartest political commentator we have. And he puts out a half hour show 4 nights a week, most weeks of the year - not a paltry 6, 8, 12 or even 23 episodes.
6. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW (MSNBC)
Maddow has a sharp political mind and she puts it to good use 5 nights a week, an hour every night. How good is she? In just a handful of years, she's gone from Rush Limbaugh puzzingly asking "Has anyone ever heard of Rachel Maddow?" to ascending the Pantheon or Right Wing Boogie Men, up there with Michael Moore and ACORN.
7. PORTLANDIA (IFC)
Okay, I don't know why, but I felt like I had to check out this Fred Armisen/Carrie Brownstein skit comedy that parodies Portland, alternative types, the nineties, etc. And I was prepared to hate it and I was looking forward to writing it off. I wasn't expecting it to be good. And it's very good. Spot on parody.
8. ARCHER (FX)
Perhaps one of the reasons this animated spy series is so good is because it utilizes a lot of the same talent as the legendary and beloved show Arrested Development while being created and produced by the folks responsible for the Adult Swim classic Sealab 2021. Plus, in terms of voice acting, Jon Benjamin is a genius.
9. BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO)
This year the Martin Scorsese-created drama really hit its stride. In case you were wondering who the protagonist is, this season answers that question dramatically with finality. Hypocritical prohibitionary laws, political graft, racism, corrupt development deals - the show may be set about 100 years in the past - but the parallels are completely relevant today.
10. NO RESERVATIONS (Travel Channel)
Always game for a controversy or feud, author/chef Anthony Bourdain continues to make a food/travel show that transcends the genre and subject and becomes a fascinating hour long cultural study about the way people live and the role eating plays in people's lives, traditions and cultures. He even managed to come out on top of a recent feud with popular Food Network celebrity chef Paula Deen when her recent announcement of having diabetes seemed to prove the point he was making about her type of unhealthy food/cooking techniques.
11. BORED TO DEATH (HBO)
This show is a magical absurdist noir half-hour sitcom noir which took much joy in revelling in its ridiculous capers - hell, there was even incest this season, and I'm pretty sure as viewers, we were supposed to root for it. The ensemble cast was spot on - with excellent running apperances by Patton Oswalt and John Hodgman - well, it's just a shame HBO cancelled the show - there was just so much fun and joy in Bored to Death it was downright contagious.
12. ENLIGHTENED (HBO)
I wasn't quite sure whether or not I was going to like this Mike White creation because I didn't know where it was going. I was afraid it was just going to focus a lot on weirdo new age self-help spiritualism bunk but I was wrong. It's about personal problems and the corporate world. Laura Dern's character is complex and challenging, and the world she pushes and forms around her is both a hateful and sympathetic construct. At its best, Enlightened is poignant and meditative and funny.
13. A GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
Swords, sorcery, blood, guts - it's quality fantasy based on George R.R. Martin's hit series. It's a sprawling epic - with a huge cast of complicated characters. Plus the T&E quotient (tits & entrails) is very, very high.
Just follow this synopsis. Make sure you get to the 7 minute mark. (WARNING: Contains SPOILERS).
14. COMMUNITY (NBC)
This show was at its best when it completely detatches itself from reality - which it frequently does. Chevy Chase's participation in this show has redeemed everything he did in the '90s, including that talk show. Unfortunately, NBC cancelled it.
15. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (HBO)
Larry David's comedy cringe-fest continues. The move from California to New York seemed to rejuvenate the entire show. There's no doubt about it, David is a difficult character, but getting him is its own reward.
16. PARKS & RECREATION (NBC)
What began as an Office sort of knock-off has grown into it's own thing. So what if the sometimes-documentary format is never really explained or addressed - it doesn't matter. Ron Swanson has become a folk hero because of his comically absurd brand of libertarianism (let's face it, all libertarianism is pretty absurd - but it's usually shrill - not soft and funny like Ron).
17. THE WALKING DEAD (AMC)
The Walking Dead world can be a difficult one to spend time in. First there's the apocalypse and the zombies, but worse yet are the characters in the show - the people left behind - the "Walking Dead" the title refers to. It's not a pretty place - but yet it's so compelling that I love spending an hour there every week. There was some concern about producer/writer/director Frank Darabont getting sacked, but the show this season without him is actually better and the writing was far more consistent.
18.-20. TOP CHEF (Bravo)
WORK OF ART (Bravo)
PROJECT RUNWAY (Lifetime)
I'm a sucker for these competition reality shows. Whether I want to know about fashion or art galleries or flavor profiles or not, I learn more about them just by watching the shows. While these shows are only as good as their casting, the challenges are fun, the characters are frequently interesting, and the judging is reliably insightful and funny.
This one currently falls under "guilty pleasure" but I don't really feel that guilty, and it's not a complete pleasure. The show is sort of like if instead of having his parents killed in front of him in an alley, young Bruce Wayne had his father fucked over by 1%er neighbors over trumped-up terrorism charges and then spent his youth locked up. When he gets out, instead of dressing up like a bat, he moves in amongst the wealthy New England community version of Dallas/Falcon Crest elite and starts destroying their lives from within for payback. Except in this instance, Bruce Wayne is a cute blonde woman.
THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (CW)
Ridiculous, over-the-top vampires (some of which are daywalkers unfortunately) vs. werewolves vs. witches vs. ... type of thing. Sort of like Gossip Girl meets Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY (FX)
I'm not quite sure where this show is going, and I'm not sure I completely trust it in getting there - but I'm all for an ongoing horror series that isn't an anthology show (or even one that is). Plus, they seemed to go for broke at the end of this season and just threw everything and the kitchen sink in the mix. I'm very curious how they elevate from where they left off. So I'll give this one a little more time. Plus, Jessica Lange is almost in her own show - and that show is creepy, scary, pathetic and more unnerving than anything taking place in the actual horror house next door (which she is somehow connected to).
BEST TV SHOWS OF 2011
by Sarah Pinsker
I watched a lot of really excellent stuff on Netflix this year, including the first three seasons of the Doctor Who reboot, the new BBC Sherlock Holmes, and all of Prime Suspect. There wasn't much on American TV that could compete. But --
I spent the entire year quoting these sketches and forcing them on people.
I adore Community. I like Parks & Rec a lot too, and I still watch 30 Rock and the fast-fading Office, but of the Thursday night comedies, Community is the one that to my mind has set the bar the highest. I love the meta-commentary on TV and movie tropes.
I had just finished reading Bill Bryson's At Home when Downton Abbey came on, and the combination of Bryson's descriptions of manor life and this miniseries was note perfect as far as I was concerned. I love the upstairs-downstairs dynamic, and the observations of their changing world. Will the telephone ever catch on? Stay tuned to find out.
Top Chef (All Stars)
Top Chef is my guilty pleasure, the only reality show I'll admit to watching. I think it has gotten a little stale since the excellent Voltaggio season, but the All Stars made it fun again.
FAVORITE TV SHOWS OF 2011
by Howard Yang
The Layover/No Reservations
Game of Thrones
Bored to Death
10 BEST TV SHOWS OF 2011
by John Nagle, Rant 'N Rave
1. Breaking Bad
2. Parks and Recreation
5. Mildred Pierce
6. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
7. Beavis and Butthead
8. South Park
9. Boardwalk Empire
10. Dick Cavett and Mel Brooks: Together Again
BEST 2011 TV (Reality Freak Show/True Crime Division)
by John Nagle, Rant N' Rave
1. Half-Ton Teen (Because it’s really fun to stretch out “teen.” Try it: “Half-Ton Teeeeeeen”)
3. Stalked: Someone’s Watching
4. Deadly Women